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“Ripley’s Believe It or Not!” trolls Ron DeSantis by offering free banned books to Floridians

BALTIMORE - NOVEMBER 2014: The Ripley's museum in Baltimore pictured November 15, 2014. The museum has oddities on display, including shrunken human heads & rare animal skeletons.
BALTIMORE - NOVEMBER 2014: The Ripley's museum in Baltimore pictured November 15, 2014. The museum has oddities on display, including shrunken human heads & rare animal skeletons. Photo: Shutterstock

Ripley’s Believe It or Not! – the beloved franchise that shares bizarre facts, oddities, and events through books, television, games, and live attractions – is clapping back at a Florida county for removing three of its books from school library shelves.

“Recently, officials in Florida’s Escambia County Public Schools district have plunged into a literary adventure of their own: removing and flagging over 1,600 books for review and potential banning,” a page on the company’s website explained. “In a weird plot twist, this includes eight encyclopedias, five dictionaries, and hundreds of reference books – including three of our very own Ripley’s Believe It or Not! titles.”

The heading of the page mocks the ban. “Looking for a good book?” it asks. “Try one some Florida students aren’t allowed to read.”

The statement expressed that “the pen is mightier than the sword!” and that Ripley’s is responding by offering a free book to all Florida residents until May 15th. Floridians can submit a request online and can pick up a book at a Ripley attraction or have it mailed to them.

The page then expressed the significance of Ripley’s books, saying they “have entertained both adults and children alike for generations, as researchers, writers, and factcheckers scour the globe looking for stories of the weird and wonderful.”

“Full of inspirational stories, compelling science, unbelievable history, and amazing human achievements, one of the best ways to learn about the world is by reading a Ripley’s book. They captivate and educate, making them valuable resources for even the most reluctant reader.”

Escambia County has long been at the center of America’s book ban crisis. The school district has reportedly removed over 2800 books from library shelves as they undergo a review process that will determine if they are inappropriate for studentsAs Ripley’s stated, even certain versions of the dictionary are currently among the books relegated to storage.

The district contends these texts could violate H.B. 1069, which DeSantis signed into law in May 2023.  

The law is an expansion of the state’s infamous Don’t Say Gay law. In addition to expanding the anti-LGBTQ+ law’s ban on discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity to all grade school levels, H.B. 1069 broadened school board oversight of library collections and empowered Florida parents to challenge any books in school libraries. It requires contested titles to be pulled from shelves for review and specifies that content that “depicts or describes sexual conduct” can be challenged.

Escambia County is known for its strict response to H.B. 1069, as well as for the antics of a certain English teacher, Vicki Baggett. Baggett has become notorious for her crusade to ban over 100 books from Escambia school libraries and submitted almost every single one of the 150 book challenges being reviewed by the district in 2023. Many of the challenged books are by Black authors or deal with LGBTQ+ topics.

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